Friday, December 27, 2013

Hollis Phelps almost gets it right:

Some of my more pastorally minded friends have intervened, urging mutual understanding and stressing unity among Christians. The sentiment generally goes something like, “Sure, we may disagree when it comes to issues such as homosexuality, but let’s remember that at the end of the day we all serve the same God.”

It’s a nice sentiment, one that is often appealed to to remind Christians that the church is, ultimately, “one body,” united in its common confession and worship of Jesus Christ, whom Christians take as God incarnate. In other words, the appeal is to some sort of transcendent commonality that unites the Christians across time and place despite differences, including differences on issues related to sexuality.

I’ve often wondered, however, if such a claim is accurate. Sure, it has theological merit and backing, but it tends to cover over the real differences that divide individuals and groups that identify themselves as Christian. I would suggest that if  we attend to these differences, there’s often not much in common between Christians who identity as “socially liberal” and “socially conservative.” In other words, I’d suggest that when disagreements among Christians flare up as they have in the past few days, we are not witnessing different expressions of an underlying, unitary tradition called Christianity. We are, rather, dealing with different “religions,” as separate from each other as one “religion” is normally taken from another.

We only need to look at the difference between Frank Schaefer and Phil Robertson to see that this is the case. We often frame such differences as differences of interpretation, but perhaps it would be better to ask the question: Are they (Schaefer and Robertson, “liberal Christians” and “conservative Christians”) really reading the same book? I’m not so sure that they are.

We could provide many more examples, and all of these would lead to one question: are “liberal Christians” and “conservative Christians” worshipping the same God? Again, I’m not so sure.

That’s one way to look at it.  Here’s another.  A great many people on the Christian left don’t really believe in God at all but have been faking it in order to have any possibility at all to change the simple minds of those ignorant legions who believe this nonsense and who also believe that words mean what they say.  I hate to keep going back to Søren Kiekegaard but you have to admit that the man absolutely freaking nailed it.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

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